You can also listen on your favourite podcast platform:
Guest: Nan Bosler, AM
It’s human nature to want to know where we come from and who we come from. Fortunately, the internet has made exploring your ancestry more accessible than ever. Host, Val Quinn talks to Nan Bosler AM, genealogist, author and great grandmother, about how you to start researching your family history online.
Find My Past is a paid service specialising in British and Irish records.
Family Search is a paid service specialising in historical record collections in Australia and New Zealand.
Scotlands People provides resources for searches about Scottish people, place, maps, plans and images.
Be Connected is an Australian Government Initiative developed by the Department of Social Services, the eSafety Commissioner and Good Things Foundation Australia. Be Connected builds the digital skills, confidence, and online safety of all Australians with engaging online learning resources, and a network of over 3,500 community organisations to support them to thrive in a digital world.
Be Connected acknowledges the Traditional Owners of the land on which we live and work, and pays respect to their Elders, past, present and emerging.
[Nan] And be just as proud of the ordinary worker as the duke or the prince or the whatever, because it's those ordinary people who are the very foundation of our lives. Every single person is a strand that is woven together to create a tapestry of life.
[Val] Hello, and welcome to the Be Connected Podcast. I'm Val Quinn, and I've been in technology for a long time as a commentator, a broadcaster, publisher, and the host of the Be Connected Podcast. So it's human nature to wanna know more about where we come from and, more importantly, who we've come from. The generations that came before us might be long gone, but they can still tell us much about our families, about history, and about ourselves. Fortunately, the internet has made exploring your ancestry more accessible than ever, and you can do it from the comfort of your home, and with so many places on the web to begin your search, there's no telling where it might lead. Here to guide us through researching family history online is Nan Bosler, a genealogist and author with a diploma of family history and a member of the Order of Australia for services to the community, particularly youth, seniors, and people with disabilities. She's also the Foundation President of the Australian Seniors Computer Clubs Association, which seeks to empower older people by helping them use technology. A great grandmother, Nan was over 50 when she first went to university and has six tertiary qualifications. We're a bit humbled by all of these accolades, Nan, so really, really great to have you on the show today. Thank you.
[Nan] Oh, it's a great pleasure to have the opportunity to talk with you about one of my great passions, family history.
[Val] Well, now that we have you, I'm just gonna jump straight off the deep end. So what are some of the benefits of undertaking your own family research?
[Nan] Well, the search for your family story is exhilarating. It's sometimes frustrating, time consuming, but it's wonderful, and slowly, your heritage comes to the surface. Your story is also part of the wider social history of the people, the places, and the times in which your ancestors lived. Quite frankly, a family tree that contains just names and dates is rather boring. We need to place our ancestors within the historical landscape in which they lived. We need to actually make them part of the social story that's evolving around them.
[Val] Well, there's just so many gems to discover, and so what do you think is a good way for our listeners out there to get into the research and to start?
[Nan] Well, I think probably the best way to start is to actually talk to your family and talk to older relatives and find out what they can tell us. Rather than just sort of start off by saying, "Well, tell me all about my family history," Start with some questions. Perhaps you might say to a great aunt, "Did you have to travel very far to school? What was your favourite subject? Did you play games in the playground at lunchtime?" They might go off in all sorts of tangents and tell you different stories, but that doesn't matter. What you're doing is getting them to start to talk, and whatever they say is going to be valuable because you want to know about this person's life, and who better to tell you than them? Now, for instance, my mother was always talking about her so-called famous ancestors, and she was going on one day, and my father jumped in, and he said, "Don't you think I've got a story, too? Aren't you interested in my story?" Now, my father had never been very interested in family history. In fact, he had had relatives living within walking distance that I didn't even know about. I discovered that day that my father had actually been a apprentice electrician, working on the Sydney Harbour Bridge, and he had helped to actually lay the wires for the trains to carry passengers across the new bridge, something I didn't know about.
[Val] Wow, that's incredible, but so, Nan, what are some of the more interesting discoveries 'cause I'm sure that you've got plenty of them that you've experienced or learned about during your time researching family history?
[Nan] I set out to actually find out how, why, and when my early ancestors came to Australia. You find some amazing things. Now, one particular item was about an ancestor, a great great grandfather who actually came out to Australia in 1814 as a convict. His wife gathered up their five young children, boarded another boat, and came after him. When she arrived in the new colony, she petitioned the governor and asked that he release her husband to care for her and provide food for her and her family. "If not," she said, "I will request that the government pay for the food and shelter that I require for myself and my five children." Smart lady. The governor released her husband.
[Val] Oh, wow, that's really clever. Oh, goodness. So what else have you discovered?
[Nan] Well, on Garden Island, there is a stone that has graffiti on it. It has "FM" very, very clearly carved into the rock, and "FM" stands for Frederick Meredith, and he is my ancestor. He arrived as steward to the captain of the First Fleet, and he was sent to the island to actually grow food for the starving colony. and so hence the name, Garden Island And so there today, you can see the "FM" carved in the rock, obviously some of Australia's earliest graffiti.
[Val] Well, they really don't make graffiti like they used to, I guess. What a fantastic find. I mean, how on earth did you discover that? That's incredible.
[Nan] Well, the Frederick Meredith Descendants Group have had several gatherings on Garden Island, and the Navy took great pride in showing us that stone.
[Val] Wow, such an amazing bit of history you've discovered there.
[Nan] And that's what we're trying to do. We're trying to discover the family story that is your ancestry heritage. Most of my ancestors are just ordinary, working, average people, but every one of them is a strand that I could weave into a tapestry that shows the story of my family and how it evolved and how it's taken its role within the community.
[Val] Wow, that is really, really good to hear about, and with me personally, my dad was doing some research into his family history, and we thought most of our descendants were from Ireland and England, but he discovered that a little group of them settled on the Isle of Man. So we had no idea that we had sort of "Manxian" blood is what my dad calls it, and he said that there's a lot of interesting mysticism and all kinds of sort of magical abilities from the Manxian Isle, so yeah, maybe I've got some of that in me, too.
[Nan] Well, that's really quite exciting. Australia's a multicultural country, so if you are someone who's lived in Australia for only a short time, your history in Australia is wonderful, but you must go back and search for the history of your native country because it's so much part of your life. It's important, very important.
[Val] And do you think that the internet has helped you discover maybe information that you might not have been able to find without it?
[Nan] Oh, I'm sure it has. Now, previously I would have to have travelled to an archive or a library and look through original documents and actually hand write notes from them. It's just so much easier these days to do it all online, but it won't stop me from going to libraries or archives or visiting cemeteries because I'll do my homework first online, and then I can go and find the extra little bits and pieces I want in the library or the archive, and there's nothing like touching original documents.
[Val] That's a really good tip. So what would you say are your top three online sources for information about family research?
[Nan] Well, I try to do as much for nothing as I can, and so there are a lot of very, very good free online services. Now, the Registry of Births Deaths & Marriages is a fabulous site. You could get basic information. It does cost if you buy certificates, but you don't have to have the certificates, and if you're looking for a death, there's the Ryerson Index, and it will actually record newspaper death notices. And then of course, there's Trove, what a perfect name, treasure trove of information. That particular website's linked to the National Library. So all of those sites are absolutely fantastic, and you could get them for nothing.
[Val] Okay, well, those are some fantastic tips. So we have the Registry of Births Deaths & Marriages. So that's one, and then the Ryerson Index, and then Trove, and that's the Australian free online research portal, which is a collaboration between the National Library of Australia and lots of partner organisations. Well, I've heard of WikiTree. I've heard that's a good resource. Can you tell us what that is?
[Nan] Yes, it's a free family tree. It's actually a worldwide one. It's got something like 30 million profiles already on that family tree. It's absolutely fascinating, and what I like most about it is that the only records that you can put onto your family tree are those that you have references for. So you know that what you see on WikiTree is true.
[Val] Yeah, that's great. I was thinking about some of the paid services that are out there, as well as the free ones. What do you think are some good places for paid research?
[Nan] Well, I use quite a few of them because I've been doing more specialised research, but if you can't afford to have too many of those paid ones, consider paying the subscription for an organisation, such as the "Society of Australian Genealogists", because very often those historical societies or libraries will actually have some of those paid subscriptions available for library users or society members to come and view free. Now, I've been doing a lot of Scottish research recently, and I have a paid subscription for Scottish People, and you could actually, by registry, get free basic information, but by paying a small amount, you can actually get the certificates, and there is a great deal of detail on those certificates that you don't get in the basic information.
[Val] I see. So you can, for example, use the Australian Genealogical Society and access some things for free but then pay a bit extra for more specific research, like you mentioned for, say, some Scottish records.
[Nan] Yes, yes. There are a lot of them. Findmypast is another good one. FamilySearch is another one. No, there are some very, very good sites. Those three that I would use a fair bit, Findmypast, FamilySearch, Scottish People. They're the ones I've been using these last few weeks.
[Val] Okay, sounds like some good recommendations. So Nan, what are the risks when researching your family history online?
[Nan] Well, it's unfortunate that there are those on the internet who are looking for information to exploit us. So we need to protect those people who are still living by not advertising their full names, their addresses, any of that information. So protect your privacy, protect your family's privacy as much as you possibly can.
[Val] Yeah, that that's really good points, absolutely. Also, I'd be very wary of the privacy terms and conditions on sites and make sure you check that before you start entering information.
[Nan] Now, there are many sites where you have a public family tree. You must be careful. I may well say that I have three children, and I have great grandchildren, but their names are private because they're still living. Now, for instance, I will not name my children, my grandchildren, or my great grandchildren.
[Val] Well, I think that's super important to mention. So if you're creating your family tree on a more public type of website, you probably wanna avoid using our family's full names and mother's maiden names. People can get ahold of that maiden name and then use it for identity theft and that type of thing. So yeah, I think we really need to be vigilant about that.
[Nan] I am very aware when I'm asked to give a secret sentence that someone could use to help identify me. I will never use my mother's maiden name or anything like that because someone might be able to find that on the internet, and then they could actually pose as being myself. There are privacy rules attached to the Registry of Births Deaths & Marriages, and the registry will not give you a birth certificate for someone who is less than 100 years old. You cannot get a death notice unless the person's been dead for 30 years, and for marriages, it's 50 years. Now, this is very, very important because too often we spread too much information on the internet, and that's a very dangerous thing. The records of my children's names and their children and their children is something that I have in my file at home, but it's not something I have on my computer. It's not something I will ever put on a family tree.
[Val] I see. So you can keep a file at home where you have the family tree and, I guess, all the information that you've collected, and then you use the internet to research and help you find information.
[Val] Okay. What I'm really fascinated about is this DNA testing that I've heard so much about, and that's really only come up over the past few years. So Nan, can you help us understand what DNA testing is, and is it worthwhile, or are there any issues to be aware of?
[Nan] Well, it's certainly one of the latest tools for family history, no doubt about that. Now, I actually had my DNA done. Now, I did mine with ancestry.com, and it was not very expensive, and it was very easy to do. It really is fascinating to see the number of people that you are connected to just by doing this DNA. One of the organisations I'm involved with actually have been trying to find out information about our ancestor's early life before he came to Australia, and more than 100 members have done their DNA, but we're still searching, I'm afraid. So we'll have to have a few more people do it so we can find out what happened to him before he stepped aboard that boat.
[Val] Well, that sounds like a very powerful tool, and so I guess you supply like a swab, like a sample, maybe, and then you send that off to ancestry.com, and then they come back with the results. Is that how it works?
[Nan] Yes, that's exactly how it works. You just sort of spit into a little gadget, seal it up, and post it off, and then they do the research.
[Val] I see, and I guess the fear for people is what that company might do with that information apart from reporting it back to you. Is that the idea?
[Nan] That is the fear. I do know that there are quite a few people are hesitant to actually have their DNA done. They're terrified it might reveal something in their health that would prevent them from getting insurance, for instance. Now, I don't know personally how true that is, but that is one of the fears I'm quite aware of.
[Nan] Do you know of any other?
[Val] Yeah, well, I've heard the same, that the main fear is just it could reveal some of your medical history or things that you might be predisposed to, and they can be passed on to pharmaceutical companies or even insurance companies so they have, I guess, access to information that you're not really willing to give them otherwise, and also, the internet is very good at collecting data about us, and advertising companies wanna know as much as they can, especially if they think we might have an illness so they can try to sell us a drug and that type of thing. So it's really about marketing to us or selling product to us that the big fear is. Yeah, that's what my understanding is.
[Nan] Well, you'd have to weigh it up, wouldn't you, the advantages and the disadvantages, and decide whether you want to go ahead and do it.
[Nan] Good point.
[Val] Yeah, it's usually the cheaper ones that are probably getting something in return. So that's what I'd be watching out for, and don't always go with the cheapest DNA service, yeah. Well, so do you have any final words of advice for people starting to research their family ancestry?
[Nan] Well, I suggest that they keep a notebook, a decent size one, and jot in anything they find out about their family. I also suggest that they get a display book, one of those A4-size books with plastic sleeves in it, and put in wedding invitations, christening applications, any sort of information that might be of interest and tuck it away in that little book And don't forget that some of those pieces of China and those artefacts that you've got around the house have got an interesting history, too. Now, I have two whales' teeth, and they were presented to my great grandfather in Fiji. I have a beautiful little China plate, which was the first gift my father ever gave my mother, all sorts of little things like that. They have a story, and you wanna preserve it because it is part of your story, and I've been keen to try and actually help my great grandchildren learn about their family's story. Now, I have printed a little book for them. It's not published because it's private, but in this little book, I show simple trees for them to trace from them, to particular members of the family, and I have selected stories from each of their backgrounds, and so we have a book of little family trees and of lots of stories about their ancestors. And on the back page, I say to them that, "These stories are true, and they're all about your ancestors, and I hope in the future, you will search more and find out more details about your family because it's important."
[Val] I love the idea of having a little ebook for your grandchildren. So is it difficult to put something like that together, or what types of tools do you use?
[Nan] Well, it was a great pleasure, and it wasn't difficult at all, but that's another advantage of technology. You see how you scan the photos into your computer. You write the stories. You do the layout, and you take it and have it printed. It's fabulous. Now, "Be Connected" has a very good family history researching online course, well recommended. A lot of libraries and historical societies have courses or programs or heritage groups where you could find more information. Chat with other people. Share your story. Share your search because it's amazing. Someone else will know just where to look for the information that you can't find.
[Val] Yeah, and you actually, Nan, you have a book, as well, that helps people learn about meeting their ancestors called "Meet Your Ancestors." Do you wanna tell us a bit about that?
[Nan] Well, it's a book that we did through the Australian Seniors Computer Clubs Association. It tells you how to search your family history. It has a lovely photo on the front, and that photo is my grandparents on their wedding day, and that little book is very, very useful. It will help you learn how to use the internet to search your family tree. It'll give you ideas about how to make use of the information you've found. So that's really a very good little booklet.
[Val] Yeah, I've had a look at it, and it's so practical and hands on, and anyone can learn, even if they don't have much knowledge about computers, about what to do. So I think it's an excellent place to start.
[Nan] That book is provided for you free by "Be Connected," and you can download it from their website when you register.
[Val] So all you have to do is register for the Be Connected website, and then you'll be able to get a free ebook, which is Nan's "Meet Your Ancestors."
[Nan] And there's another book that I'd be very happy to tell people about, and that's "The story of Bob Walter and his family". Now, Bob, at the age of 81, discovered that he had Aboriginal heritage, and this book covers 200 years of his ancestors, and that is available for free download. So we can give you the information about that website, as well.
[Val] Absolutely. Well, thank you, Nan, and we'll be sure to put lots of information about what we discussed today into the show notes, and also keep in mind that you can reference the excellent "Be Connected" course about researching family history online, which we'll also include in the show links, and be sure to check out Nan's book, "Meet Your Ancestors," as well, for lots of great hands-on tips about how you can get started.
[Nan] It's all a learning curve, but it's exciting because learning is a lifelong experience.
[Val] Absolutely, the more we learn, the more interesting life can be.
[Nan] And if you're not interested in doing your family tree or your family history now, by just sort of saving those little bits and pieces, you've got a good start when you get around to getting sensible enough to know that this is something exciting, this is something you want to know, and this is something you're proud to know, and be just as proud of the ordinary worker as the duke or the prince or the whatever because it's those ordinary people who are the very foundation of our lives. Every single person is a strand that is woven together to create a tapestry of life.
[Val] Yeah, and like you said, I think it's like what happens today is tomorrow's history. So it's worth keeping those little mementos and taking photos and capturing things because who knows what it'll be a part of in the future. And Nan, I really wanted to say thank you so much for helping us understand how technology makes it easier to uncover those family stories and those really valuable moments of history. Really appreciate your time and joining us for this Be Connected Podcast and all of your expertise.
[Nan] It was a pleasure.
[Val] And if you've liked what you've heard today, please subscribe to receive all of the latest episodes, and leave a review to help others find us if you're listening on our podcast platform, and remember to visit the show notes for information on anything we've covered here today because there's so many good points in there, and that includes links and lots of other useful material, and lastly, to discover other great topics, go to beconnected.esafety.gov.au. That's beconnected.esafety.gov.au [Narrator] Be Connected is an Australian government initiative developed by the Department of Social Services, the eSafety Commissioner, and Good Things Foundation Australia. "Be Connected" builds the digital skills, confidence, and online safety of all Australians with engaging online learning resources and a network of over 3,500 community organisations to support them to thrive in a digital world.